Lagos, Nigeria, is surrounded by an abundance of water that millions of people, in Africa’s most populous city, don’t have access to. And now, it may become criminal to try and access it because the coastal city is in the middle of a water crisis.

Only 1 in 10 people have access to the water that the state utility provides. Everyone else is on their own; either by drilling their own boreholes or fetching water from lakes or rivers. If you can afford to pay local water vendors (and you’ll PAY), you do that. But buyer beware- water is often sold in unsanitary jerry cans, bottles, and cellophane sachets.

But now, to make matters even worse, the Lagos House of Assembly recently passed legislation that could threaten this last-resort source of drinking water.

From the article:

“The government has said the law primarily targets commercial users, but activists who saw a draft of the bill before it was passed argue the regulation uses such broad language that it could threaten the basic human rights of millions of private citizens too. 

Akinbode Oluwafemi, deputy executive director for Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, told The Huffington Post that the law could mean most of Lagos was breaking the law.

‘The state is not providing water and they’re also not allowing people to fend for themselves to survive.’”

A child drinks water in central Lagos. Around 700,000 children under the age of 5 die every year in Nigeria. Water-related diseases including malaria and diarrhea are a leading cause of death.

Even the United Nations has issued a “strong-worded statement” condemning the water bill, “When the State fails to provide adequate access to drinking water, no one should be criminalized or fined for fetching water from lakes, rivers, or any other natural sources. The government is taking a step too far by imposing fines of the equivalent of $310 on ordinary individuals fetching water for survival, when the minimum wage stands at approximately $60.”

Environmentalists and human rights groups have been protestings in Nigeria over the bill that seems to seek to privatize the city’s water at the expense of its citizens, a move Oluwafemi has called “a conspiracy against the people.”  

More from the article:

“Activists have also lambasted the bill for being unconstitutional and abruptly passed. House members had been in the midst of a six-week recess when they suddenly reconvened to discuss the bill in February, according to Nigeria’s Premium Times.

Oluwafemi said rights groups and the public had little to no time to react to the bill’s introduction. A 190-page draft of the document was only made available to some civil society groups the day before a public hearing for the bill.”

Immediately after it was passed, the lawmakers went on recess again. The secrecy surrounding the bill is disturbing, to say the least.

According to the charity WaterAid, the water crisis has killed more people across the country than the militant group Boko Haram; the lack of running water is responsible for more than 70,000 deaths.

The bustling metropolis of Lagos is 21 million people strong, with decades old, rotted through pipes. And though 60 percent of Nigerians earn less than $1 a day, the country is now home to almost 16,000 millionaires, most of them in Lagos. Something keenly felt when it comes to water.

You see, while some poorer communities don’t have access to clean water themselves, they do have pipes running over the ground through their neighborhoods to the wealthy ones; there’s water literally passing right by them and they can do nothing about it.

Buying water from private vendors then is a common and necessary practice for most Lagosians. But only those who have extra money. The average family may need to buy seven or eight jerry cans of water daily, which could cost $50 or more a month, but in Nigeria, the average middle class family income is between $230 and $300 monthly.

But, the water prices fluctuate depending on the need: Abubakar Audu, a “mai ruwa” (water vendor), sets his price “depending on how desperate the customer is” and whether or not there are lights (blackouts occur every day in the city).

And since proper sanitation is nearly non-existent, it leaves most residents drinking water from untreated and unreliable sources:

  • Water-borne diseases including cholera, dysentery, typhoid and malaria fever, are common. In February 2015, 25 children under the age of 6 died after drinking pathogen-infected water.
  • A 2012 investigation found high concentrations of heavy metals like lead and cadmium at levels far above World Health Organization standards in borehole water samples extracted in Lagos.

The state has, for decades, neglected to invest in their infrastructure, choosing instead to work toward the privatization of Lagos’ water utility through public-private partnerships (which has repeatedly failed).

Our hearts go out to the mothers who cannot provide clean, safe water for their children.

Want to help? Here’s just one way:

Source: Huffington Post